How to - Gardening Basics

Deciphering gardener's Latin

Gain a better understanding of your plants from their Latin roots


Those who believe Latin is a dead language have clearly never gardened. Accepted as the universal standard for precision and accuracy, botanical Latin features a binary nomenclature system that defines plants according to genus name first, species name second, followed by cultivar names. Since many of our English words have their roots in Latin, once you know what you’re looking at, and looking for, it comes easily. For example, everyone knows Rosa is rose. Add a word like multiflora, and you can guess what you’re getting: a rose with lots of blooms. The trick is to keep in mind that, after the genus name (which describes a kind or class of plants that have common characteristics, like Rosa), often the Latin species name describes the origin, the colour or the shape of the foliage or flower. Here’s our cheat sheet to get you started.

A
Albus = white
Alternifolius = with leaves alternately spaced, not opposite
Altus = tall
Arborescens = becoming tree-like; woody
Ater = coal black

B
Baccans = bearing berries
Baeticus = of or from Spain
Borealis = northern
Brevis = short
Brittanicus = of or from Great Britain

C
Campestris = growing in fields or plains; of the flatlands
Canadensis = of or from Canada or the northeastern United States
Coccineus = scarlet
Cordatus = heart-shaped
Corneus = horn-like

D
Deltoides = triangular
Dendrophilus = growing on or around trees
Dependens = hanging down
Distans = widely separated; remote
Domesticus = domesticated; for use as 
a houseplant

E
Elegans = elegant
Eminens = eminent; prominent; with a noticeable projection
Erianthus = with 
woolly flowers
Erythraeus = red
Exsurgens = rising; 
rising out of

F
Ferrugineus = 
rust-coloured
Ferus = wild; reverting 
to the wild state
Flavus = pure yellow
Floridus = flowering; 
full of flowers
Foliatus = full of 
leaves; leafy

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